Last week, the Virginia legislature, with my support, took several major steps forward. First, we agreed to expand Medicaid, health insurance for disabled and low-income Americans, so that now, over 36,000 people in the 36th Senate District receive their health care from Medicaid. This includes over 24,000 children, children whose parents now have no health care. Starting Jan. 1, 2019, that will change.
Medicaid expansion will provide health care to between 300,000 and 400,000 Virginians and create 30,000 new jobs, many of which will be right here in eastern Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties. It will also save taxpayers $180,000,000 every two years by shifting charity care at state teaching hospitals and prison health care to Medicaid. All of us pay for uninsured people who must resort to costly hospital emergency rooms for their care. Providing Medicaid coverage can help people avoid hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency care and will help limit insurance premium increases.
Virginia will pay 10 percent of the cost of this program by a new tax on hospitals. This coupled with revenue from federal tax legislation resulted in $900 million available to appropriate in our budget and we made significant investments.
Second, we helped education. We approved an additional $105 million for Fairfax County ($575 per student), $94 million ($1,057 per student) for Prince William County and $18 million for Stafford County ($613 per student) over the next two years. The new budget also funds a three percent teacher salary increase and raises funds for state-supported preschool by $9 million. The budget also increases financial aid to higher education by over $22 million.
Third, the budget gives a much-needed two percent salary increase to state employees and a five percent pay increase to state troopers and deputy court clerks and an additional merit-based salary increase to long-time state employees. We funded 1,700 Medicaid “waiver” slots or mechanisms to provide services to intellectually or developmentally disabled adults and invested over 15 million new dollars in our mental health system. Fourth, we restored $180 million to our “Rainy Day” Fund. This will maintain the state’s financial integrity, which was recently questioned by our bond agencies.
After nine years, we ended the scourge of vacant judgeships by funding all judicial vacancies effective July 1, 2019, including three in Fairfax County and one in Prince William County. We also funded the shortfall in court-appointed attorney fee money and provided funds to start new Drug Courts and Mental Health dockets — allowing people to receive treatment in lieu of harsh punishment.
I succeeded in having six of my budget amendments funded including the four judgeships in the 36th District. The newly-opened Widewater State Park in Stafford County will finally have staff, six new state park employees. Virginia will provide nearly $400,000 for much needed technology upgrades at historic Gunston Hall on Mason’s Neck. Making Neabsco Creek navigable is now more likely because of my efforts with Del. Luke Torian to put Neabsco Creek first in line for funds from a brand-new state dredging fund. This will save 1,000 boat slips, 50 jobs and three marinas which were threatened with closure because the Coast Guard unexpectedly designated Neabsco Creek as unnavigable.
This budget was a long time coming. We first debated Medicaid expansion in the 2013 session and since that time, we have effectively relinquished nearly $10 billion in federal funds which could have helped to stabilize our economy and more importantly, saved some lives. Fortunately, we have now put politics aside and passed a budget which will change lives.
This was one of the most rewarding weeks of my public service since I was elected nearly nine years ago. This protracted budget battle resulted in major investments in people and changed lives for hundreds of thousands of Virginians. I am proud I could help forward these advancements.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. It is an honor to serve as your state senator.